Being a big fan of both Bioware and Dragon Age: Origins/Awakening, naturally I was excited when I heard there was a sequel in the works and, having now played through said sequel, I am left with a sort of bittersweet taste in my mouth.

As far as graphics and sound are concerned, the game is a masterpiece. The new art style combined with a well-done score definitely succeed at drawing you in. And while I have to agree with other critics that the number of different locals you visit is rather paltry, they are still well-designed and the different districts of Kirkwall in particular are actually a worthy follow up to places like Denerim and Orzimarr. 

I was a bit saddened at first at not being able to technically "create" my own character as I was in Origins, but any fans of Mass Effect will feel right at home since Hawke is basically a medieval version of Commander Shepard. Just like Shepard, you are free to customize Hawke's gender, class, and appearance and also like Shepard, the addition of an actual voice for your character is a welcome piece of detail. Also, there are several "preset" background stories you can choose to explain events from the first game, or you can import a save game from Origins or Awakening, a must if you care at all about continuity.

The biggest change to the game, the combat system, has gone from being a tactical waiting game to an all out swords and spell-flinging brawl. The mapping of abilites to X, B, and Y is still intact, but the game utilizes a new combo system, with A being the primary attack key. The abilites themselves are much more dynamic also, from being able to back-flip out of an ogre's reach to rushing a thug with your shield to blasting your foes with a cone of frost or fireballs, you can do all these and more with the push of a button.

While I liked the combat system in Origins, I won't lie: I *really* liked the new system in Dragon Age II. Bioware did an excellent job of not only making combat more dynamic and engaging, they also gave a unique "flavor" to each of the classes. Mages can hurl spells or utilize staff-spins and sweeps in melee, warriors can cut through hordes of foes with a two-hander or go for a more cautious sword and board style, and finally rogues can kite enemies from afar with bows or kick, slash, and stab their way through their enemies with dual-wielding.

The first major theme of DA II players might have a problem with is the story, and considering it's a Bioware game, such a problem could potentially be a big issue.  Rather than having a "big picture" sort of story like Origins, DA II instead has a series of "short stories" that are loosely connected by various sub-quests and time-jumps. Luckily, despite its clear lack of direction, DA II has plenty of content to make up for it so if you're a completionist, be ready for some serious time devotion.

My second big issue with DA II acutally had nothing to do with the game's plot or interface. I'm not sure what the deal is for the PS3 and PC versions of the game but shortly into the game I was afflicted by the most annoying sort of bug. What would happen is I would go to save my game and I would get hit with a vauge "the save game process has failed" error. Further attempts to try and save would either succeed or cause my game to freeze. If the game froze in this way, since it froze during a save attempt, I would end up losing all my saves from that particuler zone back to the autosave the game makes whenever first entering a zone.

Sometimes this would cause me to lose up to a half-hour of progress which wouldn't be quite so bad except it could potentially happen multiple times in the same zone. I don't think i need to tell most gamers how frusterating it can be having to redo an area four, five, even six times. Even worse, this constant worry I faced whenever I went to go press the save button really broke the immersion of the game and was a constant detriment to my enjoyement of what was otherwise a solid gameplay experience.

Despite all this, I still managed to work my way through the rest of the game and aside from that one bug (which I hear is being addressed in a soon-to-be-released patch) the game is, in my opinion, a worthy follow up to Origins/Awakening. With a solid cast of characters, a revamped and rather fun combat system, and a protagonist who stands out much like our favorite space-traveling Shepard, Dragon Age II is worth checking out for any Bioware/Dragon Age enthusiests out there. Just do yourself a favor and wait until they work out the technical kinks.